(**Trigger Warning** Suicidal Ideation)
I have lost so much in my life that I have spent considerable time teetering on the edge of losing it all. Just one step further and I wouldn’t have to take any more steps, I reasoned. It would all be over and at least I would have some control as to how and when it occurred. The emotional and physical pain would cease, I would cease. And there would just be silence.
Losing people (both living and those who have passed) as well as my health, employment, and independence has left me feeling quite raw, and honestly, really, really small.
Access to providers in my area is extremely limited and I haven’t been able to successfully find anyone to provide medication management and therapy. Services are either unaffordable or have a long waitlist. Some agencies simply are not accepting patients as their practice is completely full. I intend to continue trying, and yet, this is the reality for many struggling right now. I acknowledge that I am not alone when it comes to the difficulty in accessing quality and affordable healthcare. It is what it is.
Despite years of struggle and loss, I am still here. Even with the immense grief of losing my family and, at times, even myself, I am still here, breathing and occupying space.
As much pain as I am often in, both physically and emotionally, I actually don’t want “to die”. I’ve spent a year or more drifting, distracting myself from the pain of having to fight to be heard, seen, and valued. I have temporarily laid down my sword and left the battlefield. I long to heal and “bounce back” and am in the trenches, still fighting, and digging myself out of the hole I fell into long ago. It is easy to take youth for granted, until it one days escapes you, leaving you a lot older. Suddenly, life is a bit more challenging and difficult. I thought I had more time, but time is a tricky “bitch” and like sand, it slips through one’s hand very quickly, often disappearing without a trace.
This past year I went on “autopilot”. Our family experienced two deaths: my mother and sister-in-law both passed within 8 months of one another. Life became very heavy suddenly. A lot of “light” left with them and they are both missed very much. In an instant, life as I knew it, had changed. Not having a more supportive and closer family to buffer the loss, I felt the waves of grief wash over me. It didn’t help that the deaths of my two loved ones were followed by a very stressful and draining, relentless barrage of attacks from certain family members. Although, the conflict was a distraction that buffered the initial shock, it denied me and others a peaceful bereavement experience. When certain people should have been honoring the life and legacy of a an individual who gave so selflessly, they instead were consumed and preoccupied with the inheritance that was not theirs to receive. This further complicated things and lead to increased anxiety and depression.
I had already been struggling over the past few years with the loss of my own family due to estrangement related to their addiction issues and thus, my grief became very weighted this past year.
I consoled myself with the only way I knew how: gambling. I sought out solace in the overstimulation of the slots machines, drowning out the noise of life with the images on the screen, living for the serotonin hit of a bonus or jackpot, if I were to get lucky. I didn’t want to think or feel anymore. The problem with gambling is that the money always ran out and there was never enough of it to sustain my insatiable appetite for escape and numbness. After awhile, gambling drained me, not only financially, but emotionally and physically, as well. It became a true metaphor of my empty existence, completely lacking in connection. It became a desperate act to feel something, and yet, as my luck ran out, so did the funds to perpetuate this silly and fruitless endeavor to “feel alive”.
For some of us who struggle with significant depression, there is a true need for stimulation and for the “feel good” chemicals to flood our brain and wake us up a bit, even if this experience is fleeting. Some turn to sex, others to drugs, etc.. In times of desperation, I have turned to the slot machines. A large win at the casino would often lift my mood for a few days. The problem is this “rush” is temporary and not sustainable. Who knew? Well, if not in denial, it’s pretty obvious that gambling isn’t going to “fix” any problems and it definitely can leave you less connected and more isolated then when you walked in and onto the casino floor. Still yet, the deafening hum of the machines allowed me to go on autopilot and disappear into the reels, spending hours (if I am lucky) blocking out the pain that is always brimming and bubbling at the surface.
I will pause right here and say: If anyone reading this has addiction issues, please seek help. There is absolutely no shame in talking to a counselor or going to rehab, etc.. So many of us are living with these struggles silently and that is when it can become deadly. Addiction is fueled by silence, dishonesty, and shame. Find someone to talk to as there is always someone out there who “gets it” and who will understand. I openly share my struggle because life is messy and complicated and in doing so, I feel it helps decrease shame which reduces the barrier of “seeking help”. I choose, in my current state of recovery, to cultivate forgiveness and self compassion, not shame or guilt. We are mere mortals. Imperfect, but beautiful. Let go of the “should have been” and regrets, refuse to compare your life with others, and accept “what is”. Start each day anew. Do not carry the weight of yesterday’s mistakes with you. The sun sets and rises for a reason. Sleep and wake up knowing that you get another chance, another day.
And so, I press on. There is something always inside of me saying “keep going”. I have no reason to believe that things will “get better”. I do not feel certain family relationships are “reconcilable”. My health overall is “fair”. I am aging and live with multiple health issues. It also will be difficult to bounce back in my career as I currently am living on disability. I never had children of my own, am divorced, and having a “family” of my own at this point would be beyond challenging. Three of my closest loved ones are no longer living. One of them, my best friend of over 25 years, died by suicide a few years ago. I have experienced immense loss and will continue to grieve. But does all of the above mean that I will stop living? No, I PRESS ON. And why is that?
Well, I press on primarily for the little things. I enjoy nature, especially a walk in a thick, lush forest with tall, looming fir trees. They are especially pretty in winter when the branches are heavy, covered in snow. I love windy days, particularly warm ones where you can feel the warmth on your cheeks, but be cooled by a gentle breeze. When I am able to travel, I enjoy the mystery of discovering a new place. The possibilities of discovery are endless as no one has the time to visit everywhere on earth. I love watching a documentary on nature and being completely baffled and delighted at all the different forms of life on Earth. I’m inspired by all the creatures, big and small, fighting to produce and survive. Life in all forms, is a story of survival. Every form of life is hardwired to survive, grow, gather/eat food, rest, mate, reproduce, and in a nutshell, “live”. I am doing the same.
It truly is the small things, like a cup of steaming tea or a piece of pie made from the berries I freshly picked earlier in the afternoon before dusk. It sometimes is just the feel of cozy, thick socks on my feet that makes me want to “stay” a little longer. There will always, ALWAYS, be something, even if it seems small and insignificant that can bring joy and pleasure. Discovering music is another endless endeavor that restores hope. Meditation and chanting can sometimes bring me back, not only to myself, but it grounds me to a place that is more primal and ancient.
Perhaps, all my loss occurred to strip me of enough preoccupation and distraction so that I would notice the small things over and over again. Reframing it in this way, immediately alleviates suffering and I feel like a child again. I am back on the schoolyard, playing hopscotch in the Florida sun on the bare pavement, and my best friend has stopped, leaned in, and has told me a “secret” about life that immediately fills me with giddy excitement. A valuable secret, that brings me back to a place of innocence and joy. I am back in the present moment, no longer sleeping, and I feel as though I have been granted the “gift of life” once again. The world, in this space, can seem a bit brighter and mysterious. I become curious, like a child again.
And so, for the little things, I press on. I am still here. I just have to remember in times of struggle to do the little things. It’s the where the “jackpot” of life truly is. Life is always complex and simple at the same time. When it gets difficult and hard, choose the simple comforts and pleasures in life to pull you back in… lean into life and go to that space that immediately brings comfort and safety. Unfortunately, there is no absence of hardship or pain in the world. It’s messy and, at times, it is hard. And yet, when we lean in to the little “secret” that it is the “small things” that matter, we can indulge in them more often, with intention, mindfully.
I just want anyone reading to know, if you struggled in this way you are not alone. Reach out, reach out, reach out. And take advantage over and over again of the things that awaken your senses and bring you joy.